WASHINGTON – A White House admission that its political shop was speaking to more than a dozen federal agencies has lit a new ember under the seat of the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who is already on fire seeking subpoenas for Bush administration officials.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., on Thursday sent letters to a number of relevant department heads instructing them to hold onto any and all documents relating to briefings that the White House Office of Political Affairs gave to federal officials.
Waxman wants all documents and correspondence exchanged since President Bush took office.
"I request that you provide information about any briefing mentioning elections or candidates provided to agency employees by officials in the White House between January 20, 2001, and April 26, 2007. Please provide the dates, times, attendees and locations of these briefings, as well as any communications and documents relating to the briefings," Waxman wrote in a sample letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
Waxman's request follows concerns that the White House briefings to officials could be in violation of the Hatch Act, which prevents federal workers from discussing elections or candidates while in the course of their work.
The discussions are just the sort of meetings that sparked another investigation this week by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is probing a presentation by Bush aide J. Scott Jennings to political appointees at the General Services Administration.
The Office of Special Counsel, led by Scott Bloch, is in charge of enforcing the Hatch Act. At the same time, Bloch himself is being investigated by the Bush administration on separate matters, including his enforcement of the Hatch Act.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said briefings were held at other federal agencies besides the GSA, for a total of about 20 — most in 2006 and a couple in 2007. They were conducted by White House political director Sara Taylor or Jennings, her deputy. It had been known that other briefings had been held, but not how many.
Others were held in previous years as well, but Stanzel said the White House hasn't kept a count of how many.
Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said no laws were broken and that the White House counsel's office signed off on the effort.
"It's not unlawful and it wasn't unusual for informational briefings to be given," Perino said. "There is no prohibition under the Hatch Act of allowing political appointees to talk to other political appointees about the political landscape in which they are trying to advance the president's agenda."
She added: "These briefings were not inappropriate, they were not unlawful, they were not unethical."
At the same time that Bloch is investigating the White House, the Bush administration is investigating Bloch for his handling of Hatch Act cases — as well as a complaint filed against Bloch by a group of career Office of Special Counsel employees and four public interest groups.
The complaint alleges that Bloch created a hostile work environment with retaliatory acts against his employees. It states that 12 career employees were involuntarily reassigned because they were believed to have been involved in whistle-blowing. The complaint, being handled by the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general, also alleges that Bloch did not enforce bans against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal work place.
"The OPM investigation is a completely separate matter," said Loren Smith, a spokesman for Bloch's office.
Debra Katz, an attorney representing the employees, alleged on Thursday that Bloch launched the investigation into political activity at the White House because he feared repercussions from the investigation of his own activities.
The White House would find it difficult to fire Bloch if he is leading an investigation into the White House, she suggested in a letter she sent Thursday to White House counsel Fred Fielding. The letter asks that Bloch be required to recuse himself from the White House investigation, and that it be reassigned to another government inspector general.
Meanwhile, Waxman is looking into several other Bush administration activities, and on Wednesday his committee approved a subpoena for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to explain the White House strategy for convincing the American public to support a war in Iraq. On Thursday Rice said she had no plans to testify to the panel.
"This is an issue that has been answered and answered and answered, and there have also been a number of independent looks at the issue. But if there are further questions that Congressman Waxman has, then I am more than happy to answer them again in a letter because I think that that is the way to continue this dialogue," Rice said at a NATO summit in Oslo, Norway.
"But there is a constitutional principle -- this also plays in my role as national security adviser -- and there is a separation of powers, and advisors to the president are under that constitutional principle not generally required to go and testify in Congress," she said.
FOX News' Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.